As the flight took off, the tremor of the plane matched the trepidation in my heart. Somehow I realised I was worried about returning to Nigeria not because of the hardships but because of the people – the attitudes, the suspicions, the qurrelsomeness, the petty jealousies, the interference in other people’s lives… that make simple commonsense solutions turn into convoluted problems.
Just yesterday morning in an English village a 20 minute power cut had caused consternation at the bank and built a 12 person queue that got the manager apologising profusely.
I drove to London Heathrow airport. On the way I flipped out my phone and checked in for the flight and got my boarding pass on the phone. At the airport I picked a trolley loaded my trolley by myself, weighed my luggage by myself and went to the bag drop. They asked for my passport, checked my name, took my bags and passed me through. It took me a few minutes. There are hardly anymore queues or paper at BA’s terminal 5.
At security I flashed my phone at a machine that read my bar code. The search was automated. I cleared security in about 5 minutes.
When we landed in Abuja we filled in our papers, and stood in huge queues. I got a seat and waited an hour for the queue to disappear. Next I went to get my trolley pushed by these young men in bright uniforms, feeling important about their job of pushing trolleys. Not much but it gave them dignity in a country with no jobs.
I was directed to buy a trolley ticket for N400 for porter service. N150 for self-service.
The girl selling the trolley tickets was screaming at an old woman. “Madam I no get change.” I lost my cool. “How dare you shout at her like that, ” “Oga I no shout anything.” “Please can I have my own ticket”. She gave me my ticket. “My change please.” “Oga I say I no get change.”
There were about 5 of us waiting for N100 change. The game was obvious. They play it at eateries, at petrol stations, everywhere you need “change”. They want you to give up and leave the “change” with them. I immediately organised a resistance and demanded of everyone to demand their change. We all got our change. Who says Nigerians can’t protest? We do – at the little people.
Next as I wheeled out of the customs area. I wanted to go back to use the toilet. “Oga they won’t let you back.” Said the trolley porter. But we have just wheeled out and the security could see me. “Oga dey no go gree” I asked them any way. “Oga we not supposed to but I just dey do you dis favour. When you finish, make you find us something-o”. That was the quality of security in a Boko Haram age.
At the toilet it was guarded by a lady. I opened. The toilet was clean enough. I tried to lock the door. No lock. I opened the door and told the girl there was no lock. She said “Oga I dey here. Nobody go disturb you”. The incongruity of a woman guarding me behind a rickety door anybody could push open, and catch me with my trousers around my ankles; were totally lost on her.
It was not the trolley, it was not the toilet, it was not the heat, the unkempt nature or the dis-organisation of our nation’s top airport that got me; despite the noises made by ex-minister Stella Oduah of revamping the airports.
It was the little things. The bad attitude, the nonchalance, the lack of care for the customer, the casual extortion of the trolley lady, the corruption of the security that expected me to bribe to use a toilet and the casual indifference of the toilet lady to my intimate privacy. It is these small quirks, these building blocks, these little drops that make the mighty ocean of the corrupt quagmire called Nigeria.
I thought of London, of my children now grown up and the loves I left behind; of the easier life, the technology, the attitudes, the freedom. I longed for it but I longed for something more … my love for my country and these quirky people with their boundless energy and crooked minds and enterprising spirit. London is my adopted home. Nigeria is my real home. I was back home. From London with love…
I smiled. We have a lot of work to do. I mentally rolled up my sleeves